Toronto Film Festival Eases Telluride Policy on Premieres

Suggesting a cooling of last year’s tensions with its North American rival Telluride, the Toronto Intl. Film Festival has slightly loosened its rules for premieres during the first four days of this year’s event.

The festival said Wednesday it will allow movies that have previously screened at Telluride to screen during its opening weekend, but not at the three prime venues: the Elgin Theatre, the Princess of Wales Theatre and the Roy Thomson Hall.

Last year, films that bowed at Telluride (which is held over Labor Day weekend, a few days before Toronto) were prevented from screening at Toronto until after the festival’s first four days. Under the revised policy, Telluride-bowed films can now be shown during that timeframe at Toronto’s Bell Lightbox, Ryerson Theater or Scotiabank Theater.

Telluride avoids use of the word “premiere” but showed several high-profile films in 2013 — including “12 Years a Slave,” “Gravity” and “Prisoners” — that were subsequently shown at TIFF as North American premieres. Frustration at having been consistently “scooped” by Telluride on major awards contenders (including 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” 2010’s “The King’s Speech” and 2012’s “Argo”) led Toronto organizers to institute the four-day ban last year — a move that met with mixed reactions, including widespread criticism that films and filmmakers, not just Telluride, were being punished.

The policy resulted in something of a draw between the two festivals last year, with some films — such as “The Imitation Game,” “Wild” and “Rosewater” — playing both events, accepting the later Toronto playdates, while others, notably “While We’re Young” and “Men, Women & Children,” opted to skip Telluride and world premiere in Toronto. Though it’s unclear whether Toronto’s policy was a factor, “Birdman” screened at the Venice, Telluride and New York festivals, making it the first best picture Oscar winner in some years to bypass Toronto entirely.

TIFF said Wednesday that it had loosened its policy in response to “key stakeholders” that were impacted.

“Based on that feedback, we have made some minor adjustments to the policy to ensure that Toronto continues to do what is best for the filmmaker and the film while at the same time providing Toronto audiences with a fantastic festival experience,” TIFF said.

“As such, in 2015, all films playing in the first four days of the festival must be a world premiere or North American premiere if they are to screen at the following venues: Roy Thomson Hall, Princess of Wales and the Visa Screening Room at the Elgin Theatre,” it said. “Canadian premieres may screen in these three venues from the Monday onwards, or in any other festival venue throughout the 11 days of the festival.”

TIFF went on to say that the policy affects only the first four days of the festival, scheduled to open Sept. 10: “This policy does not affect the selection of titles, only the scheduling of them. We remain fully committed to bringing the best of international cinema to Toronto audiences. We will continue to select and schedule titles in a way that makes the most sense for our various audiences and filmmakers.”

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